Arrival Day 2012 was commemorated and celebrated as usual with great pomp and energy by the descendants of those who were imported to provide cheap labour on the sugar plantations after the horrendous system of slavery had finally been abolished in 1834. As usual also, the goings-on were suffused with nostalgia and history: immigrant ships, logies, depictions of plantation life etc.
These are all well and good since it is very important to remember one’s origins. The latter, however, are not restricted to the material artifacts that are usually trotted out on these occasions. Of equal, if not greater, significance in our estimation are the values and world view that were brought from their “old world” and which enabled the immigrants to rise above the slave-like conditions into which they were dumped.
In that rise, their contributions inevitably pushed the entire society upwards and by the time of independence, we were slightly ahead of most of our neighbours. For a multiplicity of reasons, we lost our way for quite a while; the jettisoning of most of those “old world” values is right up there among the causes of our decline.
While all of us, including the descendants of immigrants, have moved forward from those days of deprivation in absolute terms, we have just returned to where we were at independence. Relative to other societies that were in similar straits at the time, we have lagged badly. To be constantly reminded that we are just above the international basket-case of Haiti in this hemisphere might be grating to our sensibilities but it is the truth. After we commemorated Arrival Day 2012, it might be salutary to remind ourselves of the values and outlook that we alluded to above and hark to their promptings.
There was firstly the ideal of thriftiness. Nowadays, developmental economists assure us that unless a society can generate savings from the income of its citizens, which can then be intermediated into investments in the real economy, it is almost impossible to lift itself out of poverty.
Borrowing and receiving aid from international agencies and “development” banks at best is akin to running on a treadmill. Our immigrant forbears, in the tradition of the slaves that preceded them who saved the modern equivalent of millions to purchase the first Guyanese villages, consistently stashed away a portion of their meager earnings.
The economists have a fancy name – “deferred gratification” – for this act of not spending all that one earned – much less spending more than one’s income, as has become the norm today. All the countries that have climbed out of poverty had high rates of savings: we must emulate them – and our ancestors.
Another value was cooperation. Our ancestors could not have survived the harsh plantation experience unless they cooperated with each other. This spirit of cooperation extended into all facets of their lives – economic, with the box-hand and “lend a hand” in agriculture etc, social, with weddings, religious celebrations etc being a “village” responsibility, personal – raising children and finding spouses for young adults etc.
The sprit of cooperation can be fostered by local government extending once again to the village level and we hope that the authorities will move forward with the necessary legislation expeditiously. Finally, there is the matter of how we celebrate. Today alcohol consumption is de rigueur. And we are not talking about “social” drinking – the rallying cry, as the imbibers would have it, is “Rum till I die”. And die they do, in ever increasing numbers. But in the case of alcohol, death is not final: it leaves behind traumatized families and friends that are scarred for life.
Alcohol was not common in the old world setting of our forbears. It was foisted on them on the plantations as one of the tools of control. This scourge must be destroyed. We do not really honour the memory of our ancestors when we reject the values that made them overcome their predicament after arrival. Let us commit to do better henceforth.